A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

ATLAS’ wonderwall

12/24/09
The ATLAS mural in progress. The mural will eventually also cover the wall on the left.

The ATLAS mural in progress. The mural will eventually also cover the wall on the left.

A picture might be worth more than a thousand words if it’s an almost-full-scale representation of ATLAS, the biggest of the LHC detectors. The 46-meter-long, 25-meter-high detector is now sealed in its underground cavern, where not even scientists will be allowed when the LHC is running. But on the surface, viewable by all visitors to ATLAS, travelling artist Josef Kristofoletti is painting an enormous mural that will represent the detector almost in 3D.

This is not Kristofoletti’s first ATLAS mural. In 2008 he chose the biggest LHC detector as the subject for his 13-meter-wide mural “Angel of the Higgs Boson” for the Redux Contemporary Art Center in South Carolina. His work was enthusiastically received by ATLAS scientists, who invited him to come and visit the real detector.

Following the “awesome experience” of visiting ATLAS underground, Kristofoletti was inspired to create an even larger mural, almost 2/3 of the actual size of ATLAS, that would cover parts of the nondescript grey buildings located above the detector’s underground cavern. He worked for several months to draft 20 different mural designs. The collaboration had a hard time selecting only one proposal, but the choice was finally made and Kristofoletti arrived in September, ready to start painting. Or so he thought: he spent a full month completing the necessary paperwork and being trained to work on a cherry picker.

Kristofoletti is captivated by the ideas of scientists, and admittedly (and ambitiously) follows the path of the Renaissance painters, who were confronted with the task of translating abstract religious concepts into images that people would understand. He aims at translating science into shapes and colors, convinced that “when you look at a machine, even if you don't know what it is you can have some idea of what's happening based on its structure.”

Since the beginning of October, ATLAS physicists have become used to the smell of paint and to the silhouette of Kristofoletti clipped to the basket of a cherry picker. They wave as they pass by on their way to the ATLAS Control Room. Visitors to ATLAS are also impressed by the mural, which has become a favorite backdrop for souvenir pictures.

The winter chill has arrived in Geneva, and Krisotofoletti is taking a break. He will resume painting in the spring.

by Manuela Cirilli

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